Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Things I Strive For As A Writer: Perfection

I want to write the perfect book.

There. I said it.

I'm not so crazy to think that's actually possible—especially on the first go around—but I strive for it nonetheless. Why? Because even when I reach for perfection I fall seriously short. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but hopefully I can clarify.

For a time in my life, seeking perfection made me discouraged. Through my teen years I realized that perfection wasn't really attainable, and that got me thinking, "If I can't be perfect, then why try?"

And more than that, what's perfect to one person is flawed to another. My ideal isn't my best friend's ideal, and so on and so forth.

So I stopped trying to be perfect. Not that I went out and did anything horrible, but I stopped reaching, if that makes sense. If I couldn't be The Best, then I didn't try at all. If it wasn't easy for me, I didn't push myself. I told myself I was fine the way I was.

Which is a strangely slippery slope. Because in many ways that is true—we are all fine the way we are. On the other hand, humans have this uncanny ability to be so much more than they are. Not just fine—but great, amazing, inspiring, etc.

When I stopped reaching for this unattainable perfection, I sold myself short.

I stopped writing. I stopped drawing. I stopped being the person I wanted to be but wasn't yet.

I lost years of progress because I chose to stand still instead.

Of course, at the time I didn't know how much I'd lost, how much I'd given up on myself. It wasn't until I picked up a bookmark at the store that things changed. You might recognize the quote from my sidebar:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!
—Henry David Thoreau

That day, I wrote creatively for the first time in five years. I decided to reach for the impossible again, and now almost five years after that I'm happy I did. I may still be far, far from perfection, but I'm somewhere instead of nowhere. And not only am I somewhere, but I'm going places.

I've learned that reaching for perfection isn't necessarily bad. Sure, there are unhealthy examples, but I don't mean going for the crazy extremes. I mean going after your ideals, whatever they may be. I mean seeking to improve daily, picking yourself up when you fail, and moving in the direction of your dreams.

I want to write the perfect book—according to me. I want it to be my best possible effort, the best possible manifestation of the story. I've learned that I have to reach for perfection to get even close to that. If I set my sights any lower, my work sucks and I don't improve.

As much as pushing myself hurts at times, I've learned that I really like the results.


  1. I like the way you've explained this. At first I didn't agree, then I realized you're saying exactly how I feel: I'll do my best work or go down trying.

    Here's to your perfect book!

  2. Lovely.

    Another quote I like that sums this post up is "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

  3. I love this! So I'm really glad you're writing again!

  4. And this is why I love your blog...excellent post.

  5. This is a great post and so true! We have to walk such a fine line between being happy with who we are and wanting to be better at the same time.

    It's just scaria.
    (which is my verification word and I have vowed to use them in sentences from now on.)

  6. Thanks for sharing. It is so true. We have to aim for the stars and strive for our dreams.

    I too want my work to be the best it can possibly be: Perfect.

    Good luck with that!

  7. "As much as pushing myself hurts at times, I've learned that I really like the results."

    Hear hear! Thanks, Natalie. It's been a tough week of pushing myself, but this is helping me to rally ('cause I'm not done yet)!

  8. *sigh*
    The need for perfection has kept me frozen on many, many occasions.
    Recently I've been reminding myself that there is actually no such thing as perfect.
    I could think I've written a "perfect" book, but to someone else its garbage. Like everything else, perfection is subject to interpretation.

    I hope to reach the point where I no longer strive for the perfect book, but a book I can be proud of, because in the end that's all I can control.

    Hmmm... so really my struggle might be in giving up control...

  9. Well said. It's all about your own, personal brand of perfect.

  10. This is wonderfully put.

    It is the same as the well-worn saying, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." :)

  11. I understand what you're saying. Very admirable! And very well said. A good reminder to always try to best your last book. I've learn something with every book, and I hope I don't make the same mistakes. Time will tell. Thanks for writing this!

  12. Beautifully said! Thanks for sharing. :)

  13. "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you land among the stars." ~ Brian Littrell

    I have that on a lovely metal bookmark. :-D

  14. This is a wonderful post - I know that feeling. If I can't be great, if I can't be the best, if I can't write something everyone and their uncle will want to read, it's not worth it. But that fades quickly, for me, because I always remember what I ought to strive for. I don't strive for 'perfection.' I strive for my best, not a 'better than'.

  15. This is a really beautiful post! I feel inspired by it, because I'm in a similar situation. I, too, strive for perfection and have a massive inner editor telling me that I suck, so sometimes it's easier not to write, even though in retrospect it doesn't make me happy.

  16. This is me on so many levels. I cheat one time on a diet and throw in the towel, I don't write a perfect story the first time and I don't try a second, I fail and give up.

    I'm slowly realizing that imperfect doesn't mean it's a failure. I need to change my attitude.

    Thanks for sharing this. I need to "pick up the pen" and stop wasting years not writing.

  17. We have to torture ourselves a little on the path to betterment, whatever the field. Whether it's athletics or weight loss or video game playing.

    I totally agree though. When you realise that perfection is impossible, and stop aiming for the sky, it isn't long before you realise how easy it is to just lay on the floor.